The final time James Harden scored 45 factors in a playoff sport, it was 2015. His Houston Rockets, down three video games to none in the Western Conference finals, had been profitable a house sport for pleasure in opposition to the quickly to be champion Golden State Warriors.
On Monday evening, Harden matched that profession playoff excessive in a way more vital sport.
With the Philadelphia 76ers’ star and NBA scoring champion, Joel Embiid, out with a knee sprain, Harden scored 45 once more, and gave the Sixers an surprising one-game-to-none lead over the top-seeded Celtics, 119-115. in Boston Garden.
Points 43, 44 and 45 had been the largest, approaching a cold 3-pointer whereas intently guarded by Al Horford to give the 76ers a 117-115 lead with simply over 8 seconds left. On the subsequent play, Marcus Smart of the Celtics threw the ball away in visitors below the basket, and two free throws wrapped it up for Philadelphia.
“I used to be questioning in the event that they had been going to put two on the ball,” Harden stated of the chance of a double-team on the go-ahead shot. “It was a one on one. So then I’m trying up, I’m simply, all proper, that is what I work on day by day. Get the greatest obtainable shot it doesn’t matter what it’s. Raise up and shoot it.”
Harden made 17 baskets on 30 pictures, each season highs. He made seven 3-pointers on 14 pictures, additionally each season highs. He additionally had a team-high six assists.
(*45*) the first possession, Harden, 33, took it upon himself to get Philadelphia factors, hitting a 10-foot jumper.
“Whatever they gave me, I rose up and took a shot,” Harden stated after the sport. “Whether it is a 3, whether or not it is a floater, whether or not it is a midrange jumper.”
Asked why there was no double staff on the final shot, Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla stated: “That was certainly one of our greatest defenders. He made a giant shot.”
Paul Reed had 13 rebounds filling in at middle for Embiid. He had a profession excessive 15 in Game 4 of the Sixers’ first-round sweep of the Nets, a sport that Embiid additionally missed.
Going into Monday evening’s sport, the Celtics had been favored not simply in the collection however to win the NBA title. They had been 9.5-point favorites to win Game 1 at dwelling in the absence of Embiid.
Disquietingly for the remainder of the collection, the Celtics truly performed fairly properly on Monday, hitting 58.7 p.c of their pictures and outrebounding the 76ers by 10. But they by no means appeared to give you the option to cease Harden.
“We have alternatives to bounce again,” a terse Mazzulla stated.
After three scoring titles and a Most Valuable Player Award with the Houston Rockets, Harden had constructed a formidable legacy. But it was tarnished considerably with an abortive and injury-plagued two seasons with the Nets. When he was traded to the 76ers in early 2022, most of the focus was on the Sixers lastly eliminating Ben Simmons slightly on their acquisition of Harden.
Harden has slot in properly as Embiid’s lieutenant in Philadelphia. Harden led the league in assists per sport this previous season with 10.7 and averaged 21 factors.
Embiid shot however didn’t run on Monday at observe. Coach Doc Rivers stated he did not know if Embiid would play in Game 2 on Wednesday.
For one sport not less than, thanks largely to Harden, they did not want him.